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Henry Rollins' Letter to a Young American (Pt. 1)

Henry Rollins: Young person, you’ll find in your life that sometimes your great ambitions will be momentarily stymied, thwarted, marginalized by those who were perhaps luckier, come from money, where more doors opened, where college was a given--it was not a student loan; it was something that Dad paid for--to where an ease and confidence in life was almost a birthright, where for you it was a very hard climb. Okay, that happens all the time.  Some of the greatest Americans, some of the greatest thinkers, artists, architects, politicians and other movers, shakers and creators all over the world have come from very meager beginnings like my favorite American Abraham Lincoln.  And so, just because you come from nothing you must not let that be something that holds you back.

And you will encounter people who never have to pay in full.  They get to wreck the room and never have to clean it.  They can get all the way through high school and never understand where a dollar comes from because they just get it given to them.  I went to school with guys like that.  You’ve had presidents like that.  You’ve had friends like that and you’ve suffered.

Your humility has been tried.  Your patience has been tried.  Your resolve and your ambition has been tried.  You cannot let these people make you feel that you have in any way been dwarfed or out classed.  You must really go for your own and realize how short life is.  You got what you got, so you have to make the most of it.  You really can’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about his.  You really have to go for your own.  If you have an idea of what you want to do in your future, you must go at it with almost monastic obsession be it music, the ballet or just a basic degree.  You have to go at it single-mindedly and let nothing get in your way.  And that’s why you’re young.  That’s why you can survive on no sleep, Top Ramen noodles and dental floss and still look good.  And take advantage of that great energy you have, the fact that you can do an all-nighter.  

All the people you admire, from Mohamed Ali to any politician, they work and work and work.  A guy like Bill Clinton, not everyone’s favorite, Rhodes Scholar, he’s smart for a reason.  Got a great mind, but he sat and he shoved a whole bunch of information in there and he learned how to connect the dots.  And so can you.  Your president right now is a man who got where he is through very hard work and scholarships, mainly hard work and application and discipline.  If these people can do it, why not you?  

It is very, very easy, though, to feel smaller, to feel less than when you see people with an advantage, walk where you struggle, who have ease of motion where you are constricted.  It can be a real shot to your morale.  It can be flummoxing to a degree where you’re almost paralytic.  You got to keep picking yourself up and reaching for it.  And that’s the long and short of it because if you don’t it won’t get done. 

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd

Henry Rollins' advice on discipline, self-reliance, and overcoming obstacles.

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